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Alum Tawed Spolas
#1
Hello Friends! 
Long time I haven't posted here, but since this matter has been discussed time and again in this forum, and the very notion of alum tawed being the best candidate for the material of the spolas began in this forum, I thought it was only fitting to post my results here!

I will paste here the description I wrote for my facebook page: 
This is our reproduction of a spolas, what the sources describe as the "leather cuirass attached at the shoulders" worn by Greek hoplites in the classical age (its use probably started in the late Archaic times, and continued well into the Helleinistic times). It is made by real alum tawed leather, which becomes naturally white through the process of tanning it with the use of alum. While it is not testified that the Greeks were using alum tawed leather, we know that they used white leather for making shoes and sandals. It is believed that if it was not alum tawed leather as we know it, it would have been something very similar. The reason why this kind of leather might have been used may be that whilst very thick, it is surprizingly flexible while retaining its protective abilities, compared to the same thickness of vegetable tanned leather. However, vegetable tanned leather of this thickness (average 6mm) is almost rock hard, and would make two layers of pteryges impossible to function properly. In addition, vegetable tanned leather does not offer this bright natural white colour that is by far the commonest color in all painted depictions of this cuirass. In fact, there is only one coloured depiction of this cuirass where the base colour in not white but yellow, the Aristion stele, a carving with quite some peculiarities in the selection of colours! 

All the bronze parts, the gorgon head and the rosettes with rings are faithful reproductions of existing fittings from organic cuirasses of the classical era. They are made by famour armourer Jeffery Hildebrandt of Royal Oak Armoury. The bronze triangles on the epomides are my interpretation of a common feature in vase paintings, and especially by the Achilles painter. However, we know that bronze was used specifically in this part of cuirasses of this type, either in rectangular or other forms, some times with designs in repousse (i.e. animal heads). It is significant that real 10% tin bronze was used for the fittings.

 The body of the cuirass is made of one layer of 6mm thick leather. Four pannels were stitched together to form the body, and one more for the epomides. The pteryges are made of two layers of the same leather. It may seem odd that this lower part of the cuirass is more reinforced than the body, but in the early tube and yoke cuirasses the pteryges only cover the area of the groin, starting at the navel and reaching no further than the genitals. This is obviously a very vital area, and one that is very often mentioned in poets like Homer and Tyrtaeus. The edges of the cuirass are all hemmed in alum tawed leather stitched with waxed linen thread. The decorated chest band was painted in a geometric design common in classical architecture, but it can also be found in one of the cuirasses from the temple of Aphaea in Aegina. The rivets along the perimeter of the waist line are purely decorative. They are an interpretation of artistic representations, but we know that organic cuirasses were decorated with metal fittings, as such have been found in graves. 

The overal proportions of the cuirass follow the artistic representations (one of the Achilles painter's in particular), the cuirass of Philip II from Vergina, while also being tailor made on the body of the customer. It is made for a very tall modern man, and weighs roughly 4kg. This is slightly lighter than a bronze bell cuirass of the same period, which would weigh a little more than 5kg for the same size of person.

 Overall, we think that this is as close a reproduction of a spolas as has ever been made, taking into consideration that none has survived complete enough to make a direct comparison.

   

   

   

   

   

   

I have already made some preliminary tests on its protective properties against a good sharp kopis, but plan to make further experiments with accurate arrows. 

Kahirete
Giannis
Giannis K. Hoplite
a.k.a.:Giannis Kadoglou
a.k.a.:Thorax
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#2
Nice!  That is a beautiful piece!  Please post any test results you get.
Cheryl Boeckmann
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#3
Very nice indeed.
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR
FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
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#4
This is beautiful.
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#5
Beautiful job. The tailoring looks to be very good - resembling some of the iconographical depictions as well as the Vergina cuirass - and the detailing is excellent. However the armour is way too thin. There are lots of examples of leather armour all over the world both in museums and descriptions in texts. Any made from leather this thin was assembled from multiple layers - usually two or three. If the leather was thinner then even more layers were used - up to seven.

You are wasting your time testing a kopis on it. You don't need armour to stop a sword cut; a thick winter tunic can stop a sword cut. Proper armour was designed to stop points - i.e. spears and arrows, which were by far the most common threat at the time. If you want it to stop points then you would need at least three layers of this tawed leather on the chest. You might get away with two layers if the back layer was rawhide, or perhaps semi-cured leather - rawhide is far more resistant to weapons than tawed leather. A spolas made from this material would need to weigh 7-8 kg to stand a chance of stopping the majority of spear and arrow attacks, which is significantly more than an equivalent item made from metal.

Edit: It should be noted that the softness of this leather makes it unsuitable for armour. The whole reason for the cuirbouilli process was to take soft leather and make hard so that it can better withstand weapons. Considering both the alum tawing industry in Athens at the time, their massive export market for white leather, and the white appearance of some spolas illustrations, it makes sense to incorporate tawed leather in the construction of the spolas (assuming that hide was actually used and not linen). However, in my opinion, it would only have been the outermost layer (and the pteryges). The inner layer(s) would be made from hide that was better able to function as armour, such as the above-mentioned rawhide or semi-cured leather.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#6
Really gorgeous work, Giannis!! Sorry I have not commented sooner, I have been sidetracked by weird stuff and painting. It's terribly frustrating to not know precisely how these things were made or from what. I think at least now, with your stunning piece (and if I finally finish mine), we will at least have the bases covered; there are now spolioi made from veg. tanned leather, hide, and now beautiful alum tawed leather. Hard to know how the original stuff was treated.. Anyway, I do plan on finishing things, I just thought I would stay away until I got back to work on things, but then you came out with this stunning piece!
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